Have you ever wondered how your competitor gets so much press while you get none? Help a Reporter Out (HARO) might be their secret weapon. This popular service connects professionals and experts eager to be quoted to journalists who need someone to quote in their articles. No matter what your field, you can use HARO, owned by Cision, to position yourself as a source and your business as a model or in an example. Here's everything you need to know about HARO, from how it works to how to pitch journalists in a way that will increase your chances of getting your comments published.

How Does HARO Work?

To use HARO as an expert source and connect with journalists, you'll need to sign up for a HARO account. A basic account is free. After someone at HARO approves your account, you'll start receiving the HARO email newsletter.

The newsletter comes out Monday through Friday, three times a day: at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m., and 5:35 p.m., Eastern time. Each newsletter contains a long list of reporters' queries that include the topic they're writing about, the questions they need answered, and the types of sources they're looking for. As a potential source, you'll want to quickly scan the newsletter to look for queries related to your area of expertise. Not every newsletter will have one, and that's okay.

If that sounds cumbersome, consider purchasing a monthly subscription to get upgrades like keyword-filtered results. A subscription can also mean receiving queries as soon as they're approved, giving you a jump over people who don't see them until the next newsletter comes out.

To reply to a query, you'll need to go through the HARO platform, because the writer's email address will be masked. This system helps keep reporters from getting spammed with unwanted public relations emails, which the typical journo already receives way too many of. The reporter usually provides their name and the publication name, which is important because you don't want to spend time pitching to a publication that isn't the right fit for promoting your business. On occasion, though, reporters will mask this information from sources to help prevent competing publications from putting out a similar story before they can publish theirs.

Sources use the service to submit more than 800,000 responses to more than 55,000 journalist queries each year, according to HARO. Because journalists typically receive many more responses than they can use in an article--they might receive 20 replies, but only want or have room for three sources--you are unlikely to get a response unless the reporter wants to quote you. It's not a good idea to follow up to make sure the reporter saw your response; chances are you will just annoy them.

It's just good etiquette for reporters to let you know if they plan to use your response and to send you a link when the piece is published. HARO even lists this requirement in its rules for journalists. However, sources have told us they were surprised to learn they'd been quoted because the writer never followed up. Set up Google Alerts for your name and your company's name to keep tabs on possible media mentions.

How HARO Can Help Your Small Business

Getting a reporter to quote you after connecting with them through HARO can help your business in many ways. It can increase brand awareness, generate leads, promote the people within your business, create social proof, and help you make the most of the time you dedicate to publicity.

"Receiving third-party coverage lends credibility to my thought leadership and my business," says PR professional Linda Pophal of Strategic Communications, which recently hosted a webinar on how small businesses can gain media exposure. "PR exposure is powerful because it's someone else talking about you, rather than you talking about yourself through your website, advertising, and social media posts."

The small business owners who shared their experiences for this article told us they got quoted in a publication once for every 4 to 10 times they responded to a reporter's query, giving them a 10% to 25% success rate. Here are some specific ways small business owners told us HARO helped them.

Increase Website Traffic/Social Media Followers

"Since August 2019, we've replied to over 60 HARO pitches and have landed features in 19 articles," says Leticia Rodriguez, the marketing associate at a startup college admissions and career coaching company called Prepory. "Some of those article features include Fortune, American Express, Discover, CollegeCovered, and PayScale."

"Before HARO, we were averaging roughly 1,500 website visitors a month," Rodriguez says. "Today, our web traffic is close to 11k per month, with the majority of our traffic coming from our blog posts and our American Express feature."

In addition, when reporters promote the article on social media, Prepory sees a boost in its Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook followers.

Improve SEO

"The real benefit of HARO lies in getting placements in many smaller venues that link back to our website," says Steve Silberberg, owner and head guide of Fitpacking, a weight-loss adventure vacation company. "Google crawls these links and boosts page rank accordingly so that the website is more prominent during search."

Silberberg said he has used HARO since 2009, has responded to more than 1,000 queries, and been quoted more than 200 times. "Although it's difficult to quantify the amount of revenue directly attributable to HARO, I don't think my business could have survived for 15 years without it," he says.

Increase Credibility

"I wouldn't keep giving HARO such a big chunk of my day if I didn't feel the results were worth it," says Shel Horowitz, a consultant who helps companies combine business success with social betterment. "I've been quoted multiple times in A-list media such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, even Redbook and Reader's Digest, plus many smaller media. I've had features and radio/podcast interviews in respected second-tier media such as Thrive Global and IdeaMensch. While the coverage doesn't usually translate directly into sales, it does translate directly into credibility with prospects."

Generate Sales

Sometimes, the financial impact of a media mention is easy to quantify. Murray Kramer is the owner of Kramer Kreations, creator of the outdoor family game Murbles. "My most recent exposure came just three weeks ago from an article in The Wall Street Journal," he says. I received around 15 orders over the weekend and several more over the next two weeks. In all, my sales from that article totaled over $3,000."

Impress Investors

Angie Li, a member of the media team at Gardenio, a food-growing membership club, hit the jackpot with her first HARO response and got her company featured in Shondaland, a digital publication founded by TV-show producer Shonda Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal). "We sent that article out in an investor update and got a lot of positive responses," she says. "Our investors really enjoyed seeing that we were doing outreach and that we're getting traction from major publications."

Expand Your Outreach

How to Respond to a Journalist's Query

For the best shot at being included and being quoted, you need to stand out. Here's how.

Be the first.

Okay, you might not be able to be the first. But if you see a query related to your business, it's a good idea to drop everything and answer it--really. Journalists have deadlines (which are included with each query), and they're more likely to use a response that arrives earlier than one that arrives later--as long as it's a good response.

Responding quickly is so important that Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal ("Uber for lawn care"), plans his day around it. He was initially frustrated with his lack of success using HARO, but then got a substantial increase in responses after he focused on responding quickly.

"I get up at 5 o'clock in the morning every day to pitch the morning email while it's hot," Clayton says. "I pitch the lunch email during my lunch break." He replies to the afternoon email while getting his exercise on the treadmill.

Provide real value.

As a potential source, it can be frustrating to spend time crafting what you think is the perfect response, then never hearing back. You may be tempted to save time (and try to be first) by dashing off a quick reply along the lines of, "I run X business and would be the perfect source for your story." Don't do it. Journalists find these replies useless, and responding this way violates HARO's rules for sources.

Instead, "Ask yourself what extra piece of information can you include that gets your pitch picked," says Ethan Taub, CEO of Loanry.com, an online loan broker. "The simple deal with HARO is you'll get out what you put in, and that doesn't mean it is all about going for a massive amount of pitches, but actually really taking the time to give proper and considered answers to the ones you do reply to."

It can be frustrating to spend half an hour replying to a reporter's HARO query only to get no response and not be quoted. But that doesn't mean you've wasted your time. "You can reuse some of your pitch content in your own emails or website," says Bessy Tam, a tech career coach who was most recently quoted in Business Insider. Or even the next query that comes down the road.

Make sure your online presence is stellar.

Journalists want to be able to link back to your website when the publication allows it. They also need to look good to their editors, so if your website looks like it was designed in 2005 or has noticeable typos, they might pass you by.

Expect to have your Twitter, Facebook, and small business Instagram accounts examined, too. Publications don't want to embarrass themselves by promoting someone who posted a racist tweet in 2016. If you've posted anything you regret, take it down. If you have a LinkedIn profile, make sure it's complete, up-to-date, and has a professional photo of you.

Make yourself available.

If a public relations agent is representing you, have them include your phone number and email address so the journalist can contact you directly. It's fine to have your PR team keep an eye out and respond to initial queries on your behalf. After that, journalists want to talk to you, not your PR agent. Be available after hours, too, for reporters on tight deadlines.

Also, be willing to respond by phone, video chat, email, or text. Different journalists and the publications they write for have different preferences for communicating with sources. The more options you provide, the more likely you are to get a response.

Indicate exactly how to identify you.

Include a line in your response to the effect of, "If you decide to use my response, please quote me as Amy Fontinelle, a personal finance expert who specializes in mortgages, credit cards, and insurance." Don't make the journalist figure out your job title or spend time crafting the perfect sentence to describe you and your company. Also, link your name or your company's name to the webpage you'd like the reporter to link to.

Follow the rules.

Read HARO's rules for sources before you reply. Violating them can get you permanently banned. Following the rules makes you more likely to get quoted.

How NOT to Respond to a Journalist's Query

Certain types of responses can be a waste of time for both sources and journalists.

Don't reply, "I can talk to you about this."

A comment like this is stating the obvious--why else would you be responding?--but not much else. Journalists don't want to waste their time following up with sources who haven't shown how they can add value to a story with a thoughtful, intelligent reply.

Don't omit your credentials.

Journalists need to know that you are who you say you are and that you have the credentials you say you have. Make it easy for them to verify the facts.

Provide links to your website, media page, Yelp page, BBB page, social media accounts, and any published articles you've been quoted or featured in. If you have a professional license, include your license number and a link to the website where the journalist can verify your license and professional standing.

Don't pitch off topic.

You're wasting everyone's time when you submit off-topic pitches in a desperate attempt to get your company's product or service noticed. You can be reported and banned from HARO for doing this.

That said, thinking outside the box in your responses can be a successful strategy. "Answering as many queries as I can, not limiting to just my niche or my clients' niche," has worked for Jen Breitegan, a PR professional and owner of the blog Organizenvy. "My blog is about organizing for a balanced life," she says. "But I've gotten HARO success from answering queries about being a fortysomething woman or mom, and creative ways I've saved money in my household budget."

Don't make it about you.

Yes, you're replying to HARO because you want a media mention. But when you reply, think about what the journalist is looking for: a good anecdote. A spot-on example. Honesty. Authority. Original information or insight they can't get anywhere else.

"I always come up with an outside-the-box response," says Taylor McCarthy Hansen, co-founder of ECM, The Ecomm Manager, a website devoted to e-commerce. "If I can come up with an answer within five seconds of reading the query, then chances are other respondents are going to have the same response."

In other words, approach your reply from the perspective of, "How can I help this reporter write an excellent story?" And although you don't want to take too long about it, put an effort into making it a well-phrased response that they can quote directly (unless they specified they need to actually speak to you).

Don't submit an already-published response.

Reporters and their editors run drafts of their articles through plagiarism detection software before submission and publication. If a reporter discovers you've wasted their time by copying and pasting something from your own website or re-submitting a response that another reporter already quoted, they will never consider you as a future source. Never risk making a reporter look like they've plagiarized content.

By contrast, developing good relationships with reporters can lead to future media opportunities. Many journalists are freelancers who write for multiple publications, and they'll work with you again if you earn their trust.